How do we assess Social and Economic values in our region?

Today, The Great Barrier Reef is recognised as a global icon delivering essential ecosystem, economic and cultural services to local residents and visitors from around the world who are drawn to the Reef for its natural wonder (GBRMPA, 2018). Understanding this dynamic relationship between people and the natural environment is increasingly recognised as critical for achieving conservation and sustainable human use goals (Marshall and Curnock, 2018). This relationship is described as the ‘human dimension’ of environmental management.

To assess social and economic indicators of the human dimensions, the Social and Economic Long-Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) was established using funding provided by the Australian Government, in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) and the NQ Dry Tropics Ltd Natural Resource Management organisation, led by researchers from CSIRO and James Cook University (JCU). The SELTMP comprises a series of survey questions, to identify the perceptions held by local residents and tourists regarding the condition and management of the GBR and its associated waterways, and their individual capacity to take action to make positive environmental changes for these systems. The survey also assesses perceptions of the values, wellbeing and economic opportunity derived explicitly from the Reef. Monitoring how the community value and interact with the Reef helps identify vulnerabilities which may be influenced by changes in environmental condition, climate change, regulatory frameworks and culture (CSIRO, 2019).  For example, if the community derives good wellbeing benefits from the GBR, they may be vulnerable to experiencing reduced wellbeing after disturbance events which negatively impact environmental condition, such as coral bleaching.

To assess social and economic indicators at the regional level, only survey responses from local residents within the reporting zone were included in the assessment. A total of 283 people across the Mackay-Whitsunday region participated in the survey (113 in the Mackay region and 170 in the Whitsunday region), from a total population of approximately 151,300. The results of the 2017 SELTMP survey are represented in the table below. Data is presented per Local Government Area (LGA) (Mackay Regional Council or Whitsunday Regional Council), and at the regional level (Mackay-Whitsunday LGA’s combined).

What is the Data Showing?

The most recent assessment was reported in the Partnership’s 2018 report card (released in 2019). The results of this report indicated that the community derived good value and wellbeing benefits from the GBR, but also perceived condition and management of the GBR (and its associated waterways) to be very poor to moderate, respectively. Despite these perceptions of poor condition and management of waterways and the Reef, the community perceived the GBR to provide very good economic opportunity for the region. Overall, the community graded their individual capacity to effect positive environmental change poorly.

For more information on how our region is responding and what you can do to improve waterway health, click here to visit our Partnership’s 2018 management response report. Stay tuned for the 2019 management response product, set to be published later in 2020.

2020 Regional Economy Snapshot: By the Numbers

Our diverse and resilient industries are an integral part of the region’s economy. Highlighted in Figure 1 below are changes in our regional economy across the three years leading into and including the data reporting for this report card. From March 2020, effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the region, predominantly the hospitality and tourism sectors. Temporary and casual workers were significantly impacted.

Graph of sugarcane crop, commodities shipped, total fish catch and tourism expenditure in Mackay Whitsunday.

Figure 1. Economic ‘snapshot’ of sugarcane crop, commodities, commercial fishing, and tourism expenditure in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region. Information retrieved from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, North Queensland Bulk Ports, and Tourism Research Australia.

Social Value Scores

Community perceptions to our region’s waterways and the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) were assessed based on data from 283 surveys of Mackay and Whitsunday residents, conducted in 2017 as part of the Social and Economic Long-Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) for the GBR (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Regional and Local Government Area (Whitsunday Regional Council and Mackay Regional Council) scores for indicator categories that make up the social value scores for the 2018 Report Card.